COOPERSTOWN – A memorial to black lives lost to racial injustice and police brutality was approved for display in Cooperstown by the Village Board during its meeting this evening.
“It’s a great idea,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch.
The memorial, spearheaded by Jennifer Dibble, Hartwick, would include laminated photos of black men and women from the “Say Their Names” memorial database, affixed to the fence with zip-ties, and decorated with flowers. A dedication, including blessings from Jonathan Brown and Rev. LaDana Clark, is also planned.
COOPERTOWN – “Affordable housing” will be the priority of Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, who is running unopposed in the Sept. 15 Village Board primary, according to questionnaires posted today by the League of Women Voters, Cooperstown chapter, on the LWV’s “Vote 411” web site.
“The village’s largest employer, Bassett Healthcare, employs 2700 people on the Cooperstown campus alone,” wrote Tillapaugh in response to the League’s questionnaire. “The majority of those employees commute from long distances. It is to Cooperstown’s advantage to increase our housing stock and population.”
In addition to the mayor, three candidates are competing for two trustee positions: MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino, incumbents and Democrats, and Mary Margaret Robbins, Republican challenger.
COOPERSTOWN –Enough with “11th hour resolutions,” Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is concluding.
At issue at hand is a resolution, passed unanimously by the Village Board Monday, June 22, asking the state Education Department to consider removing the word “Indians” from the Historic Marker at Council Rock, and perhaps the one at the Indian Mound marker, too.
As the trustees’ meeting was coming to an end, Trustee MacGuire Benton had jumped in to say a constituent had told him using the word “Indians” is “insensitive.”
Trustee Richard Sternberg quickly recast Benton’s remarks in resolution form, which within minutes was put to a vote asking the state Education Department to change the language.
This Monday, the 29th, Sternberg issued an apology. “After discussions with people much more knowledgeable than I about tribal histories and affairs,” he stated in a press release, “I realized that my wording was poor and that I didn’t even state well what my true intention was.
“I have requested that the other trustees delay implementing it until I can withdraw and replace it,” he wrote.
How might that be avoided in the future?
“I don’t want to hamper anybody in any way,” said Mayor Tillapaugh. “But there has to be more research and nuanced phrasing. There is recognition, all around, that there was not.”
She continued: “Subsequently, I’ve heard that Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation and director of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, has no problem with the word ‘Indian’.”
Some do object to “Native American,” she said, and they point out their ancestors were on this continent long before Amerigo Vespucci was born.
“They believe they are members of their tribes first,” she added.
Going forward, the mayor said she is going to ask trustees to submit prospective resolutions to Village Administrator Teri Barown by the Friday before each meeting. It can then be included in the packet of information trustees review over the weekend in advance of their monthly meeting.
She is also referring the “Indians” matter to the village’s Parks Board, chaired by Trustee Jeanne Dewey, to come to an understanding of what sensitivities, if any, surround the word “Indians” and whether any further action is warranted.
For his part, Benton, the trustee who started the whole thing, said he supports Sternberg’s decision to withdraw the motion.
Still, he echoed the resolution: “I see the village reaching out to tribal leaders in Upstate New York and the state Education Department to update the signage as they see fit.”
He also envisions a telephone number alongside the Historic Markers that people could “essentially, dial one for a full history, instead of a couple of sentences.”
He further suggested, “I do hope the signage about General Clinton is changed to reflect history more accurately and to honor native history. General Clinton led an ethnic cleansing campaign, and I don’t think the sign accurately reflects it.”
COOPERSTOWN – Village Trustee Richard Sternberg is withdrawing his resolution that would seek the removal of the word “Indian” or “Indians” from historical markers in the village, he announced a few minutes ago.
“After discussions with people much more knowledgeable than I about tribal histories and affairs, I realized that my wording was poor and that I didn’t even state well what my true intention was,” he said in a statement.
COOPERSTOWN – It was a constituent that alerted Village Trustee MacGuire Benton to verbiage on historic markers at Council Rock, a Native American meeting place where the Susque- hanna River flows out of Otsego Lake.
“I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it previously,” he said. “The sign refers to Native Americans
as ‘Indians’. It’s racially insensitive and incorrect, and it needs to be updated.”
The signs, which were installed by the state Department of Education as WPA projects in the 1930s, refer to Council Rock as: “Famous meeting place of the Indians.”
That prompted Trustee Cindy Falk to raise the same concern about The Indian Grave, two blocks away at Estli Avenue and Main Street. A “newer” sign, it commemorates remains that were excavated and reburied in a mound there.
Even newer plaques, such as the one installed a year ago January at First Presbyterian Church, commemorating New York State’s 1827 emancipation of slaves, does include updated language, said Benton.
“We’re not the only municipality making these changes,” he said. “In this moment of social awareness and racial justice, I’m sure the state Department of Education is familiar with this request.”
Trustee Richard Sternberg made the motion to reach out to the Education Department. “We need to get ahead of this,” he said. “That way, we can acknowledge that we recognize this and immediately send it on to be corrected.”
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch asked Trustee Jeanne Dewey, as chair of the Parks Board, to spearhead the task.
However, Trustee Joe Membrino cautioned against jumping too quickly to make the change. “I’ve been involved in Indian Affairs and we need to be careful how we’re presenting this,” he said. “We should investigate and we should make the request, but we shouldn’t assume what is politically or culturally correct. We need to do our due diligence.”
“Whoever is making the new signs will be awfully sensitive,” said Sternberg.
As part of the TEP project on Pioneer Street, the mayor said the village had to work with Mohawks and Oneidas to assure compliance, and that they still have connections to the tribal organizations that they can reach out to clarify the proper language for the sign update.
“It’s not about taking down the signs,” said Tillapaugh. “It’s about using language that is culturally appropriate.”
No one mentioned that one of Cooperstown’s most famous statues, “The Indian Hunter” by John Quincy Adams Ward, is in Lakefront Park.
COOPERSTOWN – Coronavirus-era concerns raised by 500 people packed into Muller Plaza at last Sunday’s rally for justice may be avoided this coming Sunday in front the county courthouse here.
“We will have people spread out to the extent possible,” said Village Trustee MacGuire Benton, who attended last week’s rally and is one of four people organizing this one.
People will be asked to wear masks and to gather in several groups of no more than 50 people each, he said. Plus, the Cooperstown Distillery is donating 10 bottles of Cooper’s Clean hand-sanitizer to hinder the spread of any infection.
COOPERSTOWN – Following the outpouring of support at the Oneonta “Justice for George Floyd” rally, a second such protest has been scheduled for Cooperstown at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 7 in front of the Otsego County Courthouse.
“I was approached by my friend Maria Noto to help organize the protest,” said Village Trustee MacGuire Benton, who was at Sunday’s protest. “And I never say no to social justice.”
COOPERSTOWN – In an effort to help businesses and bring shoppers back downtown, the Cooperstown Village Board has declared June 1 through Oct. 12 as a Special Event, dubbed “Cooperstown Outdoors,” during their meeting this evening.
Business owners in the Commercial District – Main Street – will be allowed to apply for a permit to hold sidewalk sales.
“By establishing a special event, we can allow for vending in certain locations,” said Cindy Falk, Village Trustee. “A lot of our shops are in smaller spaces, so it may be advantageous to them to be able to sell on the sidewalk.”
COOPERSTOWN – In light of Governor Cuomo’s decision to postpone Wednesday’s village elections statewide due , the Cooperstown candidates have said they are pulling up their lawn signs for the time being.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is unopposed. MacGuire Benton, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns are competing for two Village Board seats.
The terms of Benton and Membrino, the two incumbents, expire April 1; but Tillapaugh said that, due to the governor’s State of Emergency, they will continue to serve until the next election.
Governor Cuomo early this evening delayed all village elections in New York State until April 28, the same day as the statewide Democratic Presidential Primary.
“Delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system,” Cuomo said.
Many such races are uncontested, but in the Village of Cooperstown, three candidates – MacGuire Benson, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns – were vying to fill two seats this Wednesday, March 18.
COOPERSTOWN – Village trustee candidate MacGuire Benton announced a few minutes ago he is suspending door-to-door campaigning because of concerns about coronavirus.
“It’s an unfortunate and difficult decision to make, as I am committed to knocking on every door and talking to as many voters as possible,” he said. “But it’s the right things to do during this COVID-19 crisis.”
Meanwhile, candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns said this morning she has contacted the NYS Clean campaign to see if hand-sanitizer refill stations can be set up in Cooperstown during the National Emergency.
Interviewing the three candidates, it was quickly clear: Three exceptional people – and exceptional in different ways – are running for Cooperstown Village Board.
Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns is a trained and organized pharmacist, a wife and mother, and someone with an inspiring personal story: enduring misdiagnosed Lyme disease and emerging victorious from a heart transplant.
Joe Membrino is a semi-retired D.C. lawyer with a specialty in Indian affairs, who is still working on behalf of the Oneida Nation. He’s experienced, steady and inspired by the sense of stewardship he’s found in village government. Great qualifications and temperament.
MacGuire “Mac” Benton, 22, is the youngest trustee in village history, already field-tested as a campaign organizer for a Congressional and a state Senate campaign. He’s smart, he wants the job and he’s endearing. His election is “the greatest honor of my young life.”
Cooperstown is lucky. Unfortunately, all three can’t be elected to the two vacant seats.
Robbins’ pledge to refocus on what her constituents want – hallelujah! – makes her election essential, given the repeated citizen outcries of the past year. It’s time for the Village Board to change course.
In only a year, Membrino – Mayor Tillapaugh quickly elevated him to Finance Committee chair – is playing a critical role as guardian of the village’s financial health. And it’s in extremely good health, he can show.
March 18, vote Robbins and Membrino. If defeated, be assured, Mac Benton will be – and should be – back.
COOPERSTOWN – It was the bluntest opinion of this evening, on what to do about the former CVS at 100 Main St., the downtown centerpiece now vacant for three years.
“They never should have allowed CVS to leave Main Street,” declared village trustee candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns in response to a question from Jay Bosley, a Hartwick resident who owns property in the village.
The venue was a League of Women Voters’ issue-focused debate in the Village Board meeting room, where Republican challenger Robbins faced two incumbents, Democratic trustees MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino. League co-president Liane Hirabayashi moderated.
Voting is noon-9 p.m Wednesday, March 18, at the fire hall.